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Explains loneliness, including the causes of loneliness and how it relates to mental health problems. Gives practical tips to help manage feelings of loneliness, and other places you can go for support.
We all feel lonely from time to time. Feelings of loneliness are personal, so everyone’s experience of loneliness will be different.
One common description of loneliness is the feeling we get when our need for rewarding social contact and relationships is not met. But loneliness is not always the same as being alone.
You may choose to be alone and live happily without much contact with other people, while others may find this a lonely experience.
Or you may have lots of social contact, or be in a relationship or part of a family, and still feel lonely – especially if you don’t feel understood or cared for by the people around you (see our information on the causes of loneliness).
"One thing I’ve learned is the difference between feeling alone and feeling lonely - and how you can feel lonely in a crowd full of people, but quite peaceful and content when alone"
Feeling lonely isn’t in itself a mental health problem, but the two are strongly linked. Having a mental health problem can increase your chance of feeling lonely.
For example, some people may have misconceptions about what certain mental health problems mean, so you may find it difficult to speak to them about your problems (see our pages on tips for dealing with stigma).
Or you may experience social phobia – also known as social anxiety – and find it difficult to engage in everyday activities involving other people, which could lead to a lack of meaningful social contact and cause feelings of loneliness.
"I want to be able to interact with people and make new connections but my anxiety feels like an invisible barrier that I can’t break through."
Feeling lonely can also have a negative impact on your mental health, especially if these feelings have lasted a long time. Some research suggests that loneliness is associated with an increased risk of certain mental health problems, including depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, sleep problems and increased stress.
"My anxiety and depression isolates me from people, stops me from being able to do the things I’d like to do so socially it cuts me off."
Loneliness has many different causes, which vary from person to person. We don’t always understand what it is about an experience that makes us feel lonely.
For some people, certain life events may mean they feel lonely, such as:
Other people find they feel lonely at certain times of the year, such as around Christmas.
Some research suggests that people who live in certain circumstances, or belong to particular groups, are more vulnerable to loneliness. For example, if you:
"When I suffered from anorexia it fed into so many areas of life. It was all consuming. One of those areas was loneliness. It was something that I felt for such a long time."
Some people experience deep and constant feelings of loneliness that come from within and do not disappear, regardless of their social situation or how many friends they have.
There are many reasons people experience this kind of loneliness. You might feel unable to like yourself or to be liked by others, or you may lack self-confidence.
Thinking about what is making you feel lonely may help you find a way of feeling better. See our page of tips to manage loneliness for more information.
This information was published in July 2019. We will revise it in 2022.
References are available on request. If you would like to reproduce any of this information, see our page on permissions and licensing.